Grow Your Own Willow

Willows should be planted during the time when they are dormant, i.e. after the leaves have dropped and before the sap starts to rise again.

As they need to develop a good root system, before they can afford to develop leaves, willow cuttings should be planted between December and the beginning of April. Willow rods should be in the ground by the beginning of March.

This is the way we plant our willows here:

1. Spread your ground cover out and dig it in:  We use silage sheet for the first two years, which is a very cost-effective mulch. It prevents weeds to compete with the willows, so no chemical weed suppression and no manual weeding is necessary. It provides moisture through condensation directly below the sheet where the roots are being formed.

2. Weigh the ground cover down / anchor it:  You will need to weigh the sheet down for areas wider than 1 meter. Otherwise, once you have made the holes for your willows, the wind will create a vortex and lift your sheet above the cuttings, damaging the buds or burying them.



If you use silage sheet like we do here, weigh it down with anything that is heavy enough, but has no sharp edges that might rip the sheet! Old tyres like we use here work wonderfully and most tyre dealers will be happy to get rid of them! (Just remember that you might want to dispose of them one fine day as well, so don't get more than you need.)

Spikes, pegs and staples are also available.

3. Prepare a planting hole for your cuttings:  Span a line connected to two pegs along your sheet to mark out your row.  Use a metal rod of the same diameter (an old long screwdriver will do) to make a hole through the plastic and into the ground and pushing your cuttings through this hole. (Note: The hole should ideally not be bigger than the cutting, to make sure no weeds are allowed to reach the light.)

In very light soils and when planting thick cuttings, this might not always be required. However, if you have stony soil, you might damage your cuttings when you plant them without preparing the hole.

4. Plant your cuttings:  Recommend planting distance for basketry type willows is around 8-12" / 20-30 cm between plants and 3 feet / 90 cm between rows, for the taller varieties for SRC and windbreaks we recommend 2 - 3 feet / 60 - 90 cm between plants.

Make sure to plant your cuttings the right way round!  We will have supplied your cuttings so that they all point in the same direction. The tip of the label attached to them points to the end that goes in the ground.

If you are planting willow from cuttings, plant them so that only 2 or 3 buds are showing above soil level.

Rods should be planted at least 1 foot deep into the ground.

5. Enjoy your willows growing!  This picture below shows an ornamental willow six months after planting.

Some types of willows will barely grow a few centimetres in one growing season, others might grow to 10 foot or more!

If the ground is very dry, water the willows well during the first year unless you planted through plastic.  (If planted through plastic they will receive moisture through condensation on the underside of the sheet.)

Remember that willow roots can invade drains and other structures, so please investigate a safe distance before you plant.

6. Maintenance: It is often advisable to coppice your willows after the first seasons growth, as it will strengthen the root system.  This is done when the willows are dormant (roughly from around December to the end of February).  After the first growing season cut all rods bar their first inch on the original cutting.   If you coppice willows for basketry, cut them the following winter right down to ground level - your willow stool will slowly become wider and wider.

The picture below shows a willow stool growing in it's 3rd season, with the plastic having been removed after
the last harvest. You can also cut your willows back all through the year, should they grow a bit too vigorously.


If you want to find out more about the growing of willows,
we recommend "Cultivation and Use of Basket Willow 2001",
which is available to buy in our shop.